- Innocent Weapons: The Soviet and American Politics of Childhood in the Cold War by Margaret Peacock
Margaret Peacock has produced a superb comparative study of images of children constructed and used by Americans and Soviets to maintain or oppose Cold War policies from the end of World War II to the late 1960s. [End Page 650] Delving into a multitude of published and archival sources in English and Russian, Peacock deftly illustrates the reworking of images over this period to respond to audiences’ new concerns. She also discusses audiences’ appropriation of images of children to criticize their nations’ Cold War demands and dangers. “Images” are broadly defined, encompassing conceptualizations of children in print, audio, and visual media.
Part I, “Building an Image, Building a Consensus,” moves between the US and the USSR within each chapter. Chapter one examines what Peacock calls the “Happy, Afforded Child” images used to proclaim the superiority of each nation’s political and economic systems. In chapter two, Peacock focuses on “The ‘Other’ Child,” the image used to represent what each nation was for and against. She also finds that the imagined rival children possessed desirable traits lacking in their own offspring: Americans worried that Soviet children’s discipline gave their nation a formidable advantage in the future of the Cold War, while Soviets fretted that American youngsters’ freedom and creativity were the foundations of their nation’s long-term success. Chapter three first focuses on images of external threats posed by the enemy. Soviets’ rhetoric of Cold War external threats stressed unified opposition to the enemy, embodied in alliances between children and youth in communist and post-colonial countries. Yet people in both nations grew concerned that internal threats posed more immediate dangers: faulty parenting characterized by neglecting or spoiling children, and perceived crises of juvenile delinquency, could enfeeble each nation from within. To counter excessive feelings of vulnerability and hopelessness that dwelling on external enemies could generate, Peacock demonstrates in chapter four that image-makers promulgated positive visions of children and youth as activists promoting international friendships. These images assured domestic audiences that children and by extension their nations were not defenseless.
The second part of the book, “Revising an Ideal,” further demonstrates the pliability of images of children, now used to question and criticize the Cold War consensus that Soviets and Americans had been pressed to support. Chapter five examines films created between the late 1950s and mid-1960s when the post-Stalin Communist Party permitted greater artistic freedom. Many films from this period featured young protagonists and, though not necessarily intentional, could be interpreted as creating the Soviet government and Cold War’s demands on the populace. Several of the movies analyzed here depicted abandoned and emotionally neglected children struggling to survive and create a semblance of family in situations lacking in capable parental figures. Peacock observes that Soviet film during “Khrushchev’s Thaw” remains under-examined by scholars. In contrast, the subject of chapter six, “American Childhood and the Bomb,” has received a fair amount academic treatment. The National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (sane) and Women Strike for Peace (wsp) supplanted [End Page 651] images of protected and happy children with representations of children imperiled by their own government’s testing and amassing of nuclear weapons and by the Cold War international rivalry. Moreover, by bringing children to public events, wsp members generated images of children acting in opposition to US Cold War imperatives.
Chapter seven turns to Soviet, American, and communist Vietnamese propaganda in the Second Indochina War. Images of Americans aiding Vietnamese children and protecting them from communism disclosed assumptions of a paternalistic relationship between the nations and inadvertently promoted the dependence of South Vietnam on the United States. Soviet propaganda portrayed children as caring and generous toward and in solidarity with Vietnamese children, but also signified the limits of Soviet aid to Vietnamese communists. The USSR would assist the communists in their efforts to reunify their country, but would not join...